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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Enslaved - The Sleeping Gods EP

Enslaved - The Sleeping Gods EP
2011 Scion A/V
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Talk about acts of international goodwill...

It would seem unfathomable for a band to release new material so quickly on the heels of a full-length album still in the healthiest phase of its promotion cycle. Unfathomable except for Enslaved, now the most ingenious black metal-rooted band on the planet since Emperor. Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch and Xasthur (now officially at his end under this creative moniker) remain nearly equal to the task in broadening black metal's more expressionistic possibilities. Yet after Enslaved's late 2010 magnum opus Axioma Ethica Odini (winner of Metal Album of the Year from this writer) has increased their legend, they have taken yet another step in heightening said legend.

The Sleeping Gods could be viewed upon sight as a quick capitalization and that might hold true if Enslaved were in the higher tiers of metal popularity. For all of their sonic might and triumphant artistry, Enslaved sadly remains a cult act. The Sleeping Gods EP being released as a surprise to their listeners would be suspect if not for the fact Enslaved was giving it out online for free.

Yep, free, people. This is a band who hardly needs to pull such a stunt, but in partnership with Scion A/V (a media sublet of the car engineer, of all things), Enslaved is gifting their fans with a pretty nifty half hour of fresh material.

Assuming you've not wholly engaged coldwave and electro ambient maneuvers, only the whispery and reverential "Synthesis" is going to catch you off-guard on The Sleeping Gods. Having personally written up more coldwave album reviews in my career than I care to admit, I can say that it takes a broad-minded metal act like Enslaved to get it right. "Synthesis" is the bridge of aquatic quietude between a total five songs of variation and yet again Enslaved proves they have evolved as a brainiac form of rock-meets-metal hinting at even more limitless parameters.

"Heimvegen" might be the most traditional Enslaved song on The Sleeping Gods with its strident march and mid-paced gallop (more like a trot) before "Alu Misyrki" picks up the pace with a banging snarl. "Heimvegen" rides on the cadence of Grutle's cleaner vocal section for much of the journey before the demon takes over and he rasps the second half of the song in accordance to a grinding rage cued by the band's transitional songwriting. Wait for the echoing dub layers creating a grand, ephemeral texture that has become Enslaved's mark of advanced intelligence.

Almost as much of a surprise as this release itself, "Alu Misyrki" is an old-school declaration of aggression, worthy of Enslaved's earlier albums such as Vikingligr Veldi, Eld and Blodhemn. You can also hear some vintage Darkthrone in sections. Still, there's no cheating to "Alu Misyrki." It could've gone down simply as a blazing jagged pill as Grutle yowls the verses amidst prototype shredding, yet this is a band far too accelerated for that. The choruses and bridges of "Alu Misyrki" allow Enslaved to decorate their thrash with uplifting aesthetics and a classic rock hammerdown outtro filled with sparkling solos. Truly this is black metal for the new millennium.

The instrumental "Nordlys" is perhaps the most rhythmic piece on The Sleeping Gods with its tempered melody and groove which makes a strange bedfellow in front of the thrumming title track finale, chanted by Grutle in native tongue. "The Sleeping Gods" builds upon a base of tribal drumming and escalates into a morose yet captivating alms-giving which grows emotional in spots.

It's enough that Enslaved has given the metal world its caliber of dedicated experimentalism from Isa on through. Not everyone's appreciated the territories Enslaved has charted out, particularly since this band has opted not to settle for the laze-about two-chord churning and self-inflicted wallowing that marks yeoman black metal. Easier to don the ghoul paint and rip your spleen out in protest against the Christian world at decibel's yielding point instead of putting some actual depth into your craft.

Ihsahn is likewise condemned by many black metal pundits, but where would this subgenre be without his gutsy measures of elaboration? Bathory is no longer with us. For better or worse, neither is Jon Nodtveidt and Mayhem's Euronymous. Say what you will about any of them, most black metal disciples have been chasing after their chewy, maligned bequests while Ihsahn and Enslaved have staked out a brand new, far more substantial one.

Rating: ****

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